Sickness Absence Policy for Employers

Sickness absence is a very common reason for employees to be absent from work. As an employer, you need to ensure you have a clear sickness absence reporting procedure and sickness absence policy. Ill health can impact your workforce at any time. Key to effective management is ensuring you look at sickness absence levels in...

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Paul Gill
By: Paul Gill
May 19, 2023
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Sickness absence is a very common reason for employees to be absent from work. As an employer, you need to ensure you have a clear sickness absence reporting procedure and sickness absence policy.

Ill health can impact your workforce at any time. Key to effective management is ensuring you look at sickness absence levels in your business and work to improve attendance levels where possible.

Employer Advice has a free sickness absence policy template to help provide employees with a clear framework for sick leave.

Read on for advice on sickness absence and tips on managing absence in your business. For more immediate support, why not contact our expert team at Employer Advice.

What is sickness absence?

Sickness absence refers to a period of absenteeism when an employee is off work because of sickness or ill health. Being off work sick is an extremely common issue that employers deal with. The key is recording sickness absence in your business. Long-term sickness absence and short-term sickness absence can both potentially lead to a dismissal on the grounds of ill-health capability.

Start by evaluating your sickness absence policy and procedure to review your overall absence management.

Employee is absent from work for seven calendar days

What happens in short term sickness absence?

Short term sickness absence can be defined as any sickness absence lasting less than one month in duration. The biggest impact you can make in your overall absence management is in this area, simply because it is the most common.

Your sickness absence policy needs to lay out exactly how short term sickness absence will be managed in your business. This should include an overview of areas such as:

How should an absence be certified?

Employees can be required to provide certification for their sickness absence. Normally, self certification is acceptable for an absence up to 7 days in duration. For absences over 7 days, you should ask for medical evidence. This is called a “doctor’s fit note”.

Despite the name, fit notes can be provided by a GP, nurse, occupational health professional, pharmacist, or physiotherapist, who are operating in a general practice setting. They will normally be a medical report and might include evidence of medical appointments.

How should an employee notify me of sick leave?

Your sickness absence policy should indicate how your staff need to notify you if they are unable to attend work. Ill health is normally something reactive, so your business should be equipped. Let employees know:

  • Who do they need to inform?
  • How should they inform that person? I.e. via phone, SMS, WhatsApp.
  • What time are they required to inform you by?
  • What information are they expected to disclose?

The health and wellbeing of your staff is paramount to your business performance so there is a genuine need to get this right.

Do I need to conduct return to work meetings?

The short answer here is, yes. Return to work meetings are a key component in reporting sickness absence. Unfortunately, many employers overlook this in instances of short term sickness absence. Regular short term sickness absence can be indicative of a bigger issue. You need to consider the impact on your business and the employee’s work.

Return to work meetings are a way of asking the employee to account for their absence in a structured and supportive way.

Typically, a return to work interview will include:

  • The reason for the absence.
  • Any underlying health and wellbeing issues that could cause regular absences.
  • Confirmation from both employee and employer that they are fit to return to work.
  • Any support services that can be offered.
  • Any reasonable adjustments that need to be made.
  • Any other issues the manager should be aware of.
  • An overview of any work that has been missed during their absence.

Once the interview has been concluded it is important that you file the notes appropriately.

Using the Bradford Factor for short term sickness absence

Regular sickness absence can be problematic. So much so, there are instances where it can be grounds for dismissing an employee. Your sickness absence policy can make note of the fact your business uses the Bradford Factor calculation for this eventuality.

If you’re looking at how you’re reporting sickness absence, then it is good practice to use this equation:

Bradford formula S2 x D = B, where:

  • S indicates the total number of separate absences for the worker.
  • D indicates the total number of days of absence for the same individual.
  • B indicates the Bradford Factor.

The score is a practical and data-driven approach to analysing absence levels. You can use the score to interpret sickness absence levels and evaluate individual circumstances.

The score can be viewed as follows:

  • 0 points means no concern.
  • 51 points means informal verbal warning/discussion with the employee where improvements are suggested.
  • 201 points means a written warning given.
  • 401 points means a final written warning can be given. Although this is cumulative, they need to build up to 401 points before the written warning can be issued.
  • 601 means you can dismiss the employee after the above warnings have been given and they continue to accumulate absences.

Once you have your calculation, use it to analyse how absenteeism is affecting your business.

What happens in long-term sickness absence?

Long-term sickness absence can be defined as any sickness absence lasting more than one month in duration.

This kind of ill health can be due to a variety of things, including:

  • Unexpected illness.
  • A chronic condition.
  • An accident or planned operation.

Employers must make sure you manage long-term sickness absence in a sensitive manner. Ensure there is a formal review period and look at medical reports to see how you can offer appropriate support.

Adapting to long-term sickness absence

In many cases, it can be difficult to adapt to a situation where your employee is unwell for a long time. Clearly, this can place a financial burden on a small business, and it can be difficult to arrange cover for the absent employee.

What must be avoided, however, is the urge to make any decision like dismissing the employee. This could potentially leave you open to discrimination claims.

What should I avoid with long-term sickness absence?

In order to manage long-term sickness absence effectively you should ensure that your sickness absence policy is robust. A dismissal isn’t out of the question, but you need to follow a fair process. Consider the following:

  • Conduct a thorough investigation and get an understanding of the reasons for the extended sick leave.
  • Consider making any reasonable adjustments to accommodate the employee (such as home working).
  • Request medical evidence and ensure this is added to the employee’s human resources file.
  • Consider offering support services such as EAP.
  • Ensure that you don’t victimise your employee and make them feel guilty.
  • If formal action is taken, conduct a meeting with your employee to consider anything new they have to say, even if what they say will require you to investigate further or obtain new medical evidence.

Make sure that any detrimental impact on your business is obvious and doesn’t need to be elaborated on.

There are numerous ways to support a long-term sick employee via things like a phased return to work or risk assessments. Seek further advice if you are unsure.

What categories are there for sickness absence?

Although not exhaustive, here are some of the common reasons your employees may need to be off work sick:

  • Asthma, bronchitis, and respiratory.
  • Back pain, sprain, strain, and musculoskeletal.
  • Blood conditions.
  • Cancer and malignancy.
  • Cold, flu, and other infectious diseases.
  • Debility and fatigue.
  • Ear, nose, and throat.
  • Dental issues.
  • Eye or ophthalmic.
  • Genito-urinary.
  • Gynecological or pregnancy related.
  • Headache, migraine or neurological.
  • Heart or cardiovascular.
  • Menopause or perimenopause.
  • Skin or dermatological.
  • Stomach, bowel, gastric or intestinal.
  • Stress, depression, anxiety or other psychological problems.

Disabled employees shouldn’t be treated less favorable, sickness rules might need to be adapted, there’s an obligation to provide reasonable adjustments.


Poor health of employee leads to multiple calendar days off sick

Should I pay employees statutory sick pay?

Qualifying employees may be entitled to SSP (statutory sick pay). Outline the qualifying criteria in your sickness absence policy. Regardless of whether your staff are full or part-time employees, sick pay is payable to eligible employee who are off work for at least four days (continuously).

Statutory Sick Pay rates are reviewed annually, in April, and there is normally an increase. Ensure that your sickness absence policy is updated regularly to factor this in.

There are certain employment types that have different rules relating to statutory sick pay. These include agency workers, directors and educational workers. One common mistake employers make is trying to force your employees to take annual leave during a sickness absence.

Also remember, when you think about reporting sickness absence, you can’t count a day as a sick day if an employee has worked for a minute or more before they go home sick.

Sick pay stops when the staff return to work or no longer qualify.

How to manage ill health

Ill health is a leading cause of absenteeism in your workplace. Your aim as an employer will always be to reduce absence levels, so it’s worth considering how you can do this.

Offer mental health and wellbeing support to your employees

Regular absences in your business due to sickness could be down to employees’ mental health. Work related stress can be a huge contributor to short term sickness absence. It’s very difficult for an employer to recognise the signs, particularly when all it takes is self-certification.

You may want to consider implementing and EAP (employee assistance programme) in your organisation to help look at trigger points and reducing absences. An EAP includes various support services for employees suffering with poor mental health.

Look at your workplace health & safety

The health and safety of your employees is paramount. By law, you are required to protect your staff, and if you are experiencing high absence levels due to sickness it may be to do with exposure to materials in the workplace.

You are responsible for COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations) which means controlling your employees’ exposure to materials that could cause ill health.

Trigger points include things like:

  • Dusts.
  • Gasses.
  • Fumes.
  • Liquids.
  • Gels or powders.
  • Harmful micro-organisms.

Ill health can arise if employees are exposed to harmful substances in anything from paints and cleaners to flour dust, solder fumes, blood or waste.

Ensure that you find out what health hazards exist in your workplace and decide how to prevent harm to those in close contact. Your business should have control measures and there should be a risk assessment.

Explore remote or flexible working options

Exploring remote or flexible working options might help limit the spread of illness in your business. Sickness absence can be restricted to one employee if, for example, they are given the option of self-isolating and working from home if possible.

Many employees want to hold onto annual leave where possible and are reluctant to call in sick too frequently for fear of repercussions. This might lead to them attending work with an infectious illness. Help reduce further absenteeism by suggesting flexible working options in your sickness absence policy.

Consider absence management software

As well as using the Bradford Factor to help with absence management, you could consider integrated software.

Use of digital tools can be beneficial to help you spot patterns in sickness absence and better manage any disruption to your business.

Is there a free sickness absence policy template?

With so much to consider when running a business, it can be easy to overlook a sickness absence policy. Employer Advice is on hand to support this area with a free downloadable template for your sickness absence policy and procedure.

How can Employer Advice help with sickness absence?

Employer Advice is an advice service dedicated to supporting UK businesses. We only offer support to employers so you can be assured that we uphold your organisation’s best interests.

If you have challenges in your business with sickness absence, then why not contact our team of dedicated human resources and employment law experts or download our free sickness absence policy and procedure template.

With over 80 years of experience in helping employers take the stress of handling their HR and employment law obligations. Get in touch with one of the Employer Advice experts on 0800 470 0613.

More About
Paul Gill
Paul is one of Employer Advice's business consultants, specialising in employment law and HR.

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